Team Full ROM’s Advice on Training Breaks
Authored by Alex Parry
Imagine the situation. You’ve planned your perfect program, and you’re executing it to perfection down to the last rep of the last set. You’re meticulous. You’re a machine…
Until you’re not.
You get ill, you get injured, you get sent away on a work trip, or perhaps you forgot to factor in that holiday you’ve had booked for months. Either way, your training is screwed.
Or is it? In this article, we’re going to be going through Team Full ROM’s advice on training breaks. We’ll be covering:
- What’s the Cause of the Training Break?
- Specific Advice for Training Breaks Due to Illness, Injury and Holidays
- Will You Lose Muscle Or Strength During a Training Break?
- Advice on Returning from Extended Training Breaks?
Let’s jump right into it.
Deciding Question: What’s the Cause of the Training Break?
Practically speaking, the majority of training breaks fall into one of three categories:
- Holiday (Related to either recreation or work)
*I’m going to assume that if you’re reading this, ‘just being lazy’ and ‘skipping the gym’ don’t really make the list. In other words, I’m assuming you’re someone with a willingness to work hard as a pre-requisite.
Now, each category has some slightly different requirements and advice, so let’s look at them individually.
Training Break Due to Illness
Illness sucks, and if you’ve been making good progress, it can be hella tempting to try and just train through it.
Resist that temptation. Training through illness almost inevitably ends in an absolute trainwreck. We’re talking poor quality sessions, terrible recovery, and insane fatigue accumulation.
Team ROM’s own Jared Feather had a really similar experience just recently, having to pull out of a comp right at the end of prep. In his own words though, “Recovery. Health. They always come first. The stage is always there”
What Should You Do?
Team ROM’s Charly Joung provided us with a great answer in one of his recent Q&As in the group:
- Take a short break from all training whilst you’re ill.
- Don't stress about any sort of potential for losses, as the stress will make anything and everything worse.
- Eat plenty of protein, stay hydrated, and eat slightly above maintenance.
- When you come back to training, start gingerly with volume as you may be very sensitive to volume starting back up.
Training Break Due to Injury
This is one of those questions where the approach really depends on the type and extent of the injury. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to talk about simpler injuries like pulls and strains, or more complex injuries for which you’ve already been through early-stage rehab and been signed off to return to some form of training.
So, to be clear, If you’ve just been hit by a car or you’ve gone through some insanely acute trauma or spinal damage, listen exclusively to your medical doctor(s), surgical team and physical therapists.
Now, with that little disclaimer out of the way…
What Should You Do?
- Realize that most injuries tend to only affect certain parts of the body. If you’ve injured your arm there’s absolutely no reason you can’t get some fantastic leg workouts in. Or, if you’ve injured your ankle or knee, there’s nothing stopping you from getting some insane upper body sessions in.
- You might find that you can even train the injured area, provided that you follow a sensible and structured ‘ladder’ of rehab. For example, if you’re coming back from a pulled hamstring, maybe heavy RDL’s aren’t on the menu for a while, but you might be able to try some light 20-30 rep seated curls and see how those feel.
- Keep a training and pain journal. During a workout, aim to avoid exercises that aggravate injured areas or increase pain. Then after the workout, record how you feel later that same day, as well as the next day. Again, you’re aiming for zero aggravation or increases in pain.
Training Break Due to Holiday
Holidays are one of the best parts of life, they’re time with friends, family and loved ones. As lifters, though, we can often get a little bit anal [eyebrow raise] about what this means for our training.
What Should You Do?
Luckily, Team ROM’s Dr. Mike Israetel has got you covered with some great answers from recent Q&As, here’s his advice:
- On most holidays, just take a training deload or active rest week. Walk, swim, and enjoy your time away from the gym.
- Move your calories to maintenance. So if you’re mid-diet, increase your calories, and if you’re mid-mass, reduce your calories.
- If you’re on a diet, you can limit damage by eating at least half of your meals as high satiety, low carb, low-fat, high protein meals or just shakes. You’ll be good to enjoy the other meals and eat more freely!
- When you return to training, do so at MEV levels and build from there.
Will You Lose Muscle Or Strength During a Training Break?
In my experience, for training breaks less than 1 month, not really. In fact, a recent meta-analysis (Encarnação 2022) of 20 studies found that some degree of strength adaptation is retained even after 16-24 weeks of detraining.
Another interesting study (Ogasawara 2013) compared two groups, one going through continuous resistance training for 24 weeks, and the other through periodic resistance training for 3 x (6 weeks training + 3 weeks detraining). They actually found that the periodic group made slightly better progress.
This research also mentioned that in many studies “the initial losses of muscular hypertrophy may not be considered as being due to the loss of muscle fiber size, but possibly due to decreases in muscle glycogen and water content, which are quickly replaced after training is resumed”
What this means is that for the first week or so, any ‘losses’ you think you see are likely just muscle glycogen and water illusions, and even after that, you lose muscle and strength FAR slower than you might think.
Plus, even if you do lose some muscle and strength, you likely gain it back so fast it’s not even worth worrying about.
What About Extended Training Breaks?
Now, for extended training breaks (we’re talking multiple months in a row, maybe even years away from hard training) things get a little trickier because you definitely WILL have lost some amount of muscle and strength.
From coaching experience, you’ll likely also have lost a bit of motor control, and feel a bit clumsier and less coordinated than you were previously. You might also find that you struggle to get a really good mind-muscle connection
What Should You Do?
Team ROM’s Dr. Mike Israetel answered a really similar question in a recent forum Q&A. Here’s what he said…
- Come back very slowly. Be conservative with your sets and your weights.
- Forget about cutting and/or massing, and aim for maintenance. Eat healthily, rebuild your consistency, and you will recomp (lose fat and build muscle simultaneously) for some time, potentially 6 months, maybe even a year.
Summary: Training Break TLDR & Infographic
Training breaks aren’t always ideal, but they’re also not the end of the world that we tend to make them out to be in our heads.
In most cases, you can take your calories to maintenance, use the time as active rest, get loads of recovery in, and then come back to training conservatively when you feel ready.
Plus, in the grand scheme of years upon years of training, a few weeks off here and there is almost negligible, so don’t stress it.
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‘Til Next Time
Alex Parry is a Guest Writer for Team Full ROM.
As owner of Character strength and conditioning, he has supported multiple youth talent pathways, as well as recreational through to senior international athletes.
He currently works as a Graduate Teaching Assistant and PhD Researcher at the University of Hull, and as a Tutor & Educator for British Weightlifting.
Encarnação, I. G. A., Viana, R. B., Soares, S. R. S., Freitas, E. D. S., de Lira, C. A. B., & Ferreira-Junior, J. B. (2022). Effects of Detraining on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy Induced by Resistance Training: A Systematic Review. Muscles, 1(1), 1–15. https://doi.org/10.3390/muscles1010001
Ogasawara, R., Yasuda, T., Ishii, N. et al. Comparison of muscle hypertrophy following 6-month of continuous and periodic strength training. Eur J Appl Physiol 113, 975–985 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-012-2511-9